'Christianity Theme Park' In China Sparks Outrage From Devotees Of Chairman Mao

ReutersA statue of late Chinese leader Mao Zedong in his youth is seen under construction in Changsha, Hunan province, 2009. Neo-Maoist outrage has been sparked by the building of a 'Christianity theme park' on what is considered 'sacred ground' for Mao's followers.

Outrage has been sparked over plans for a 'Christianity theme park' in China, with the park's location considered 'sacred gound' for devoted followers of Chairman Mao. 

The Xingsha Ecological Park in Changsha, the capital of central China's Hunan province features a 260ft tall church inspired by Noah's Ark, and a Bible institute. The 150,000 square metre development is set to open in June 2017.

The development has sparked outrage after the news that the predominantly atheist Chinese government would spend £478 million subsidising the project, as the Daily Mail reported.

The controversy was exacerbated by the fact that the land on which it is set to be built is considered to be holy ground for devotees of Mao Zedong.

'When I saw the news about the so-called "Christianity theme park", I couldn't believe my eyes,' Guo Songmin, a prominent neo-Maoist scholar and commentator, wrote online, as the Guardian reports.

'The whole church thing is as inconceivable as a visitor from outer space and is largely a cultural invasion,' Guo said. He demanded that the church's cross be replaced with a red star – an emblem of the communism that Mao championed.

Mao was 'converted' to communism in Changsha, giving the city its 'holy land' status for his devotees.

Other critics called the Christian park 'unnecessary and inappropriate', a threat to 'ideological security', and a violation of people's freedom not to believe in God.

Beijing academic and expert on China's Neo-Maoism Jude Blanchette described Changshang as 'sacred ground' for the devoted.

He described the neo-Maoist outcry: 'The narrative that they are passing around ... is that this is just another sign of infiltration by hostile foreign forces and of how tepidly communist and red our officials are that you now get state money going to build a cross on the side of a building.'

A spokesman for the park's construction team said the project was primarily intended as a romantic spot where couples could shoot their wedding photos.

A source in Changsha's Christian community said that the 'Christian theme park' was merely a church with a Bible institute, built on government purchased land. They said that 'So far, the government hasn't spoken with us about the matter yet, and our project is still carrying on.'

Blanchette said that the outcry from the Neo-Maoists, who have considerable influence on China's leaders, did not bode well for the church. 'I would be surprised if the cross stays up there that long,' he said. 

The news follows recent reports of persecution against Christians in China. Around 1,500 churches have been demolished or had their identifying crosses removed in China's Zhejiang province. China's churches have seen vast growth since Mao's death in 1976, with the communist-led country on course to be the 'world's most Christian nation' by 2030.